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Princes William And Harry Slam BBC Over Princess Diana Interview

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's become one of the most iconic interviews of all time. In 1995, Princess Diana sat down with reporter Martin Bashir of the BBC and spoke openly about her troubled marriage. A new report shows that the BBC broke all kinds of ethics rules to secure that interview. The public broadcaster is under massive public pressure now. Here's Diana's son, Prince William, speaking last night from London.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRINCE WILLIAM: BBC employees lied and used fake documents to obtain the interview with my mother, made lurid and false claims about the royal family, which played on her fears and fueled paranoia, displayed woeful incompetence when investigating complaints and were evasive in their reporting to the media and covered up what they knew from their internal investigation.

MARTIN: For more, we've got NPR London correspondent Frank Langfitt with us. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: First off, just remind us why it was such a huge deal that Princess Diana sat for that interview.

LANGFITT: Yeah. No one had ever heard her talk about this. And this is, as you would remember, for people who followed at the time, there was a huge wedding. It was one of the most viewed things in a very long time globally. And she sat down with Martin Bashir, the BBC interviewer, and talked about her marriage, and particularly Prince Charles' affair with his now wife, Camilla Parker Bowles. And anybody who watches it, Rachel, will remember this was the most memorable line.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTIN BASHIR: Do you think Mrs. Parker Bowles was a factor in the breakdown of your marriage?

PRINCESS DIANA: Well, there were three of us in this marriage. So it was a bit crowded.

MARTIN: Which was a big revelation. So what did the investigation into the backstory of that interview reveal?

LANGFITT: Yeah. Well, it found that Bashir had bank documents forged to convince Diana's family that staff was being paid by newspapers to spy on her. And worse, when the investigation examined the BBC's own probe into the matter, it found that the BBC covered up some key findings, which Prince William referenced yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAM: But what saddens me most is that if the BBC had properly investigated the complaints and concerns first raised in 1995, my mother would have known that she had been deceived.

MARTIN: What is the BBC saying at this point?

LANGFITT: Yeah, a complete apology to the royal family, to the public. There was a documentary last night on the BBC, which is - was a devastating self-examination. It was very well done. And Bashir resigned last week.

MARTIN: I mean, this was a breach of fundamental journalistic ethics. It also did happen a very long time ago. Do people suspect this is going to do lasting damage to the BBC?

LANGFITT: You know, Rachel, it actually could. Listen to this exchange last night on the BBC with its own media editor, Amol Rajan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SOPHIE RAWORTH: Where does this leave the BBC?

AMOL RAJAN: Severely injured, probably scarred. The BBC as an organization is found to have withheld information from the public which funds it and which it was set up to serve. And I think that is an appalling betrayal of the principles on which it was founded.

LANGFITT: And, Rachel, I think the context is very important here. This isn't just a royal story. The BBC has been under fire here for years. In a politically polarized U.K., it's been a lightning rod for criticism on the left but especially the right. And it relies on a TV license fee that has provided up to three-quarters of its total income in the past. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's conservative government has actually threatened to reduce its ability to raise that money. So in the current climate, honestly, the broadcaster can't afford self-inflicted wounds like this.

MARTIN: And we should note, NPR has a contractual relationship with the BBC for content and studio space in London. NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting from London. Thank you.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.